Tunisia Revolution, Dialogue and Democratization Part II

5: Developments in other countries in the region

Tunisia’s development towards building a democracy stands in stark contrast to a number of other countries where there were also uprisings during the Arab Spring . In contrast to recent developments in Tunisia, there have been major setbacks in democratic developments in Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen. The riots here have not led to better democratic framework conditions. In these countries, the positive political changes that were hoped for the Arab Spring have stopped, and in many countries the political situation has deteriorated. Popular commitment and optimism have been replaced by violence, conflict and cynical realpolitik .

Egypt is back to its authoritarian starting point, or worse, where the military regime has full control over the state apparatus. Courts, police and widespread fear stifle all opposition , both secular and Islamic. Egypt also adopted a new constitution, but unlike Tunisia, this was a politically manipulated and hasty process with weak popular support.

According to Citypopulationreview, Libya has had a similar development. Everything that at first looked very promising, with a popularly elected parliament and a new constitution, is now in ruins. Today, there is an imminent danger of a new civil war breaking out. In Iraq , the fragile political process collapsed when Prime Minister Al Maliki for a long time refused to cooperate with Sunni and Kurdish parties. In this space of power, IS has emerged. In Syria , the war is a fact, with huge losses and even greater humanitarian suffering. Due to this situation, IS has also established itself there. Even in countries such as Jordan, Algeria and Morocco, non-elected officials have been left with real power.

The Arab Spring was therefore unable to overthrow authoritarian regimes in North Africa and the Middle East, and replace them with more democratic regimes. Against this backdrop, it becomes extra important to see what Tunisia has done right.

6: Current situation in Tunisia

A relatively successful democracy does not necessarily lead to economic improvement for most people. Ex-dictator Ben Ali’s family is estimated to have hidden away 130 billion kroner while they were in power. The recession in Europe has also affected Tunisia’s tourist – dependent economy. The high unemployment rate represents a related challenge. A relatively high level of education has not prevented almost half of the country’s young people from becoming unemployed.

Tunisia is vulnerable in terms of security – sandwiched between Libya and Algeria. At the same time, Tunisians have been recruited to Islamist terrorist networks in Syria and Iraq. It is estimated that more than 5,000 Tunisians have been recruited to IS, Al Qaeda , the Al Nusra Front and other terrorist organizations particularly active in Syria and Iraq. Among the perpetrators in the attack on the In Amenas oil plant in Algeria, where several Statoil employees were killed, were at least 11 Tunisians.

The terrorist attack in the tourist town of Sousse , in which 20 tourists were killed, in the summer of 2015 also did enormous damage to an already difficult economic situation, and many countries discouraged their citizens from traveling to Tunisia after the attack. This has led to empty hotels in Tunisia, and much-needed revenue for the tourism industry has been lost. Furthermore, there is a fear that a deteriorating economic situation will lead to political dissatisfaction. Nevertheless, there are some glimmers of light : Tunisia, for example, has a growing IT industry that can be competitive both in the Middle East and in Europe.

In light of this – and the fact that the region in general does not show signs of democratization – examples are needed of democratic principles being anchored in Arab countries. With three democratic elections and an inclusive constitutional process, Tunisia has shown that this is possible.

In the shadow of the acute humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq, there is a high probability that Tunisia’s significantly smaller challenges will not be prioritized by the international community. But Tunisia in particular needs all the help it can get . Leaving the country to oneself now can prove to be a big mistake. On the other hand, investment in the country will be seen as a recognition of the reforms that have taken place.

7: After the award ceremony

Since the Quartet was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the international response has been exclusively positive . Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi has said the award recognizes “the road to unity” and that Tunisia has had no solution other than dialogue despite ideological disagreements. The leader of the Tunisia National Bar Association stated that the award is a message to the rest of the world, to all countries, and to all people who strive for democracy and peace. UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi also said that “we need civil society to help us promote peace processes.” Obama, Merkel and the South Korean leader have also spoken positively.

Tunisia can be a key to further regional development. The Tunisian constitution is a sign that it is possible to bring about democratic reforms in spite of religious contradictions, economic downturns and unstable neighboring countries. Although the Nobel Peace Prize is an appreciation for having shown peace work, the award may also be a desire to influence the further peace situation in Tunisia, but also in other countries in the Middle East.


Highlights during the transition to democracy

  • Free and fair elections: the Legislative Assembly in 2011, parliamentary and presidential elections in 2014
  • Adopted a progressive and inclusive constitution in January 2014
  • Established the Truth and Dignity Committee and the Committee against Corruption and Embezzlement.
  • Established national dialogue in the midst of a crisis.
  • Navigated through and avoided many of the pitfalls during the Arab Revolution in other countries, especially Egypt.

Experiences – “lessons learned”

  • How to get rid of authoritarian regimes: need for quick action and final breach.
    Spend plenty of time to ensure an inclusive and negotiated transition process – not rushed as in Egypt with regard to the Constitution.
    Civil society must be vigilant: remain committed throughout the transition period and hold the new authorities in power accountable.
    • Ennahda has shown that it is a middle ground for Islamist parties to negotiate, reach a compromise and influence democratic processes.
    • The international community: be aware of challenges in terms of credibility and not undermine national ownership of the transition process.
    • Need for political leadership: the political opponents Moncef Marzouki, Rashid Al-Ghannoushi and Beji Caid Essebsi have shown political leadership and respect for the democratic rules of the game.

Arab Spring 2